by Wilfred Okiche
Adaure Achumba is a television news reporter and international correspondent. We sat with her and discussed at length, her ongoing journey in journalism, current trends in broadcast journalism and the media’s role in sparking a response from ordinary citizens, as seen in the #BringBackOurGirls viral campaign.
Enjoy excerpts from the conversation.
You joined South Africa’s E-News Channel Africa recently. What is the extent of your duties with the station?
I work with ENCA, a South African based 24 hour news channel and I cover West Africa from the Lagos bureau.
How exciting do you find your job?
Very exciting! It is what I have always wanted to do. I have always wanted to be an international correspondent covering Africa to be specific and I do get to travel quite a bit across the region.
Would you call this your dream job?
I am doing my dream job but this is not the zenith for me.
What would be this ‘zenith’ for you?
‘We are’ working on that. As you grow older you dream new dreams and look at things from different glasses. A lot has changed since I graduated from journalism school. A lot of things I deal with on the job, they never taught us in journalism school. As a journalist in a social media age and on multimedia platforms I am working around the original dream.
You mentioned being a journalist in a social media age. How has this changed journalism in your experience?
Social media is the greatest thing to happen to journalism I believe. We saw the first vestiges of social media encroaching into journalism as far back as building web blogs in the late nineties [where] you are pooling content and resources and research material from the internet and then it progressed into things like MySpace. Now you have Twitter and Facebook breaking news before you even start verifying stuff. The difference is that as journalists, we are the custodians of accuracy so it is our job to ensure that everything is put in context and we are reporting facts that aren’t distorted. I am waiting for the next big thing that will arrive and change the face of journalism all over again.
Does it keep you on your toes?
Absolutely! I don’t want to not know what is happening. I have like 3 phones; one specifically for Instagram and one for Twitter and emails so constantly you have to be in touch. I have a list of hundred alerts that come to my phone so that every morning, everything that’s related to the subject is in my mailbox and I spend like an hour or 2 downloading all that information. So as it is now I cannot live without social media.
Who are your biggest journalism influences?
I think that the first eureka moment I had was when I was 8. I saw Christiane Amanpour reporting out of Ethiopia and there was that baby, that child that she was carrying. That image is imprinted in my head, I can never get it out and she was talking about the African child and I felt so much empathy for this African child that I wanted to talk about the sufferings of the African child. I didn’t know I was an African child because in school they give you this map of Africa and you can see Nigeria but then they write Africa over Sudan so I thought that was Africa and this is Nigeria. Then I was watching Dr Ali Mazrui’s documentary The Africans and that’s when I knew I was African and I told myself that I wanted to be a historian or an archaeologist so I could make powerful documentaries like that. TV journalism was a natural fit and so I started practicing by exercising my civil rights against bullies in school, I became talkative and confident. So in terms of influence, I would say my greatest influence was Christiane Amanpour. There are so many others like the late Peter Jennings from ABC news, Femi Oke mentored me for a week while visiting at the CNN center in Atlanta and I absolutely adore her for that. I met her at a time when I was really discouraged about the journalism profession because it didn’t pay very well at the entry level and you need the support of family and friends to get by. In 2005 I was close to quitting because I could not pay my bills and I was working all these odd hours. But meeting her at that time and spending that week with her, a fellow Nigerian in the Diaspora was really important to me. I also worked at a local station in Raleigh- Durham North Carolina and there was a great team of people there who I go back to now and then. I send them an email and they check out my work and give me feedback. So I think I have been fortunate in that I have been able to get a network of mentors who I can always fall back on. I even read what they are reading. A lot of young people don’t have good mentors and so they flubber throughout the most productive stage of their lives, then they turn 40 and start asking, ‘Where did all the time go?’
Let us talk about the Chibok missing girls saga. As a Nigerian who works outside the country on occasion, how has this affected perception of the country’s image?
I have been on this story for that 2 week period that nobody was talking about it. I remember tweeting on the 16th day that if the government hiked the price of petrol, would we wait 2 weeks to react? You can answer that question yourself. Obviously, we as Nigerians do not place any value on ourselves which is why 60 children can be slaughtered in Baarkin Yadi and people didn’t go 50 shades of crazy. It is how come 70 people can be blown apart in Nyanya and people were not banging down on the door of the government. Even the kidnapping took 2 weeks before concrete reactions started. God bless Mrs Oby Ezekwesili. Her personality is so positively overwhelming that it had to take somebody like her to get action going. That saddens me. I am actually more angry at the Nigerian people than I am at the government. I realize we are all dealing with our own challenges and struggles but how numb can we really have gotten that the slaughter of 60 boys did not move us out of our homes.
Perhaps we have been battered to a pulp by years of terrible leadership…
I don’t buy that. No crime is worse than any, but just think… that the idea of 60 boys, being burned and slaughtered did not make 170 million people enraged? My God what has happened to us? I think because a lot of the international community started getting involved in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, it reset us and we sat up and that was like the pin that burst through the balloon that we had created around to help us deal with and make sense of the ‘none-sense’ that has become our country.
What should the local press have done better?
I think that the authorities should allow members of the TV press go in and cover these areas, at least to the point that we are not interrupting their work so that we can bring back pictures that people can see so that it can be drummed in. The fact that we do not see images may be responsible for our apathy. Now that all the major international media organizations are in Abuja, we’ve got tons of stories coming out and it has helped a lot.
Do you think local coverage has been deficient?
The print guys do fantastic work but honestly that doesn’t register sometimes because it is mostly in text. A picture (video) says or tells a thousand words (stories). I mentioned earlier how a fantastic reporter carrying a child shaped my entire worldview many years ago. I have never forgotten it and will never forget it. Imagine if we were getting the same pictures from the North-East. Recall the South Korea ferry tragedy? We were watching and praying helplessly, as live on television 300 people, every minute, were drowning and sinking. That is the kind of stuff we need to jolt us. We need to be more gutsy. I don’t know how we’ll do that because we need to be alive first and foremost but we need more incentives for our journalists to do their job so they do not have to wait for the international community to come and tell our stories for us.